NAGAFF wants CGC to exercise restraint in sacking customs officers


*Laments increase in systemic corruption at ports
National Association of Registered Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has called on the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NAGAFF) to exercise restraint in the current reform in the Service that has led to compulsory retirement of many senior officers.
The association also said that the current situation in the ports is one in which there is increased systemic corruption, a situation he described as not the best for the industry.
In a press statement, the National Deputy President, Logistics, FWDR. Ugochukwu Nnadi, said most of the officers have become apprehensive of possible retirement with the way the new Comptroller-General, Col Hammed Ali (rtd) has been carrying out his reform mandate.
Nnadi said that based on this fear, many officers have embarked on aggressive corruption for the fear of not being sure of how long to remain on the job.
“The situation at the ports as it is now indicates that systemic corruption is in the increase at the ports because most of the officers are of the belief that they may either be retired or transferred. It is therefore a situation whereby you get what you can, because you do not know what happens next. Aside from the fact that the hydro scanners are not properly working, physical examination of containers are no longer an attraction or a responsibility for obvious reasons”.
NAGAFF said that such trend has become not just a threat to revenue generation but also of public concern.
“This situation is not only a threat to revenue but also a public interest concern. It is most unfortunate that Government even though may have good intentions in the business of governance, there is the need for consultations to be made with the stakeholders and other concerned parties before arriving at conclusions on port related matters and administration.
“The truth is that the appointment of Col. Ali Hameed came as a mix feeling to the officers and stakeholders. What may play out at the moment is to evolve damage control in the leadership of Col. Ali in the Customs because we perceive that these officers may not be happy if the scenario is that they cannot aspire to the highest position of the Service.
“ As concerned stakeholders the body language of the Rtd. Col. Ali Hameed seems not to be encouraging in the leadership of Customs. Except otherwise stated it is our view that the primary duty of Col. Ali is to carry out the mandate of Mr. President within the shortest possible time frame to restructure, reform and put a system in place that will ensure maximum revenue collection and accounting.”
The statement while commenting on the retirement of officers in the ranks of DCG’s, ACG’s and Comptroller cadre said there was the need to exercise restraint to “avoid throwing away the baby with the bath water.”
“It is also important that care and circumspection are observed to avoid brain drain in the personnel and liquidity of the Service. We wish to acknowledge the fact that Rtd. Col. Hameed Ali had accepted the fact that NCS personnel cannot be separated from the greater numbers of Nigerians on matters of corruption. We consider that a plus for the Customs for the reasons that the CGC is a man of honor and integrity.”
The association also said that on the part of the officers and men of the Service, there was the need to exercise caution on matters of loyalty to a constituted authority which is the roadmap to success in nation building.
“Government at all levels is next to God with powers of coercion to actualize its objective for the good of the greater numbers. Therefore care should be taken to avoid the introduction of Georgian reforms in a corrupt society by the Government.”
The association said that the ongoing reforms and restructuring should be made transparent to avoid undue speculations of witch-hunting.
“In the instance wherein it is alleged that the expected workforce for Comptrollers in the Service may be 75 officers, where there are over 140 Serving Comptrollers calls for extreme caution. To restructure the Service it means that half of the Comptrollers will have to go.
“The modalities to disengage the officers must be transparent otherwise the exercise may attract litigations from the affected. We must appreciate the fact that Customs officers like other civil servants are in contract with the Federal Government of Nigeria and therefore there must be restraint the way they are forcefully retired without reaching the mandatory date and time of tenureship.
“This is without prejudices to labour law of hire and fire in private organizations and or as the case may be. We are in a democracy. Decree 17 of 1984 might have shielded Mr. President in matters of sackings as happened in the 1984 purge. We urge public interest and transparency in this regard.
“The ongoing restructuring and reforms of the NCS is a necessity for the reasons that so many things have gone wrong in the Service since 2004. It is in the public domain that external forces have not helped in the proper management and administration of Customs laws.
“The Nigeria Customs Service as a member of an international body of World Customs Organisation is expected to be sacrosanct in its existence. The emergence of a Veterinary Doctor, Permanent Secretary and Army General respectively in the organization’s leadership in the past may not have helped the Customs. When the Service was about to recover from external influences, the “Abuja 88” officers became another intruder in the system.
“Untrained and retired personnel from the Armed Forces etc were injected into the Service at a very high ranking Cadre of the Service. They did not undergo tutelage of growing from the ranks to master the technicalities of being proper revenue collectors of the Customs. This was a measure of destabilization factor in the Service which they have not fully recovered
from.
“Till date the 2004 reforms had hit the Service like a thunder storm when some officers in the rank of Assistant Comptroller staged a civil service coup to usurp power and promoted themselves three steps above their colleagues in ranks.

“They seized power, shut down the zonal offices, and went to headquarters with operational issues rather than policy matters. Under the doctrine of necessity the service cannot afford to be a judge in its own matter. 
"Accordingly the mantra of change in Nigeria is the tonic Col. Hameed Ali needed to right the wrong in the Service over the years. The mandate of Mr. President is sacrosanct and should be carried out in the most transparent manner and time limit.”